Boeing: Pilot’s worries were hidden from the FAA
Boeing’s 737 Max jet now faces even more trouble, said David Gelles and Natalie Kitroeff in The New York Times. Last week, Boeing gave the Federal Aviation Administration a transcript of messages from 2016 that reveal that the jet’s automated systems had raised alarms more than two years before two fatal crashes. In the messages, Mark Forkner, one of Boeing’s top pilots, complained of “egregious” erratic behavior in flight simulator tests of a troubled automated system known as MCAS. In earlier discussions, Forkner had left the FAA—which agreed to let Boeing drop any mention of MCAS from the pilots’ manual—with the impression the system was rarely used, and he had not told the agency that it was in the midst of an overhaul. “I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” Forkner wrote in another message. The newly disclosed records “strike at Boeing’s defense that it had done nothing wrong” and that regulators were to blame for the crashes.
The new information gives ammunition to lawmakers who were already “ratcheting up scrutiny of Boeing’s leaders,” said Andrew Tangel and Andy Pasztor in The Wall Street Journal. Boeing’s engineers often played dual roles “designing certain systems on behalf of the plane maker and then certifying the same systems as safe” on behalf of the FAA. Investigators recently uncovered a three-year-old survey “showing roughly 1 in 3 employees who responded felt ‘potential undue pressure’ from managers regarding safety-related approvals.”
Families of the crash victims aren’t just seeking damages—they want regulators to order a complete re-certification of the Max, said Jim Zarroli on NPR’s Morning Edition. “Such a move would be an enormous financial challenge for Boeing,” which was counting on getting the Max back in the air by the end of this year. But “the possibility the 737 Max could be flying again soon has stirred” victims’ families into collective action, including a call for a “soup-to-nuts examination of its design” by regulators. While that’s unlikely to happen, the FAA’s response after this latest news was “not encouraging,” said Chris Isidore in CNN.com. Any further delay in the approval process “will be more than another black eye” for Boeing. It could shut the assembly lines for the 737 Max, until recently Boeing’s best-selling plane. The company already has a backlog of more than 400 planes that have been built but can’t be delivered until the plane is ready to fly again.
Boeing continues to dig itself into a deeper hole, said Brooke Sutherland in Bloomberg.com. Forkner’s messages are bad; worse, the FAA, like the rest of us, is “only now finding out” about them, even though Boeing knew for months. Yes, the company did recently unveil an “organizational overhaul” intended to improve safety and transparency, and it stripped CEO Dennis Muilenburg of his chairman’s title. But “for all of Boeing’s talk about recommitting itself to safety, the company appears reluctant to fully come clean.” ■